Every Jot and Tittle… and THE Childbirth

Not “…saved through childbirth.”

It’s “…saved through the childbirth.”

That is, the childbirth of Jesus Christ.

The extract below is from Joel McDurmon, Saved through Childbirth? — A Mother’s Day Devotion

—<Quote begins>—

The Childbirth

Piper goes on to dismiss a point that I think is the most theologically interesting, and which has been noted by some prominent commentators in the past. It is the fact that in the Greek, “childbearing” has a definite article, “the,” before it. This article is almost universally left out of the English translations.

I checked many of the thousands of uses of the Greek preposition dia for instances where it is followed by a noun with a definite article. I find only one other instance where the article is supplied and not translated, and there it made sense. In every other instance I checked, the article is translated. Even in many instances where there is no definite article, one is sometimes supplied. This strongly suggests we should go ahead and translated it if it makes sense.

Since Paul is here talking about the narrative of Eve and her role in the fall with the serpent, it is by no means a stretch to realize he is also referring to the childbirth as well. It is the childbirth of all childbirths, the seed of the woman, promised in that very same narrative in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

The verse is universally understood and the first promise of the Messiah to come and save us all from the curse and the power of the devil. Yes, she was deceived, but nevertheless she shall also be saved through the promise made in that same event.

In other words, I think the Greek word should be translated like it is nearly everywhere else in Scripture. The verse should then read, “Yet she will be saved through the childbearing. . . .” To what specific childbearing is this referring? It is the promised childbirth of the Messiah. Paul is affirming a spiritual and theological promise, now a reality, through which women (and men) are saved, over against pagan ideas in Ephesus (as we shall see) on the one hand and family-lineage ideas of certain Jews on the other. It is about Christ, not your own baby makings.

Piper rejects this view, saying, “That seems so remote, that Paul would refer to the glorious incarnation of the Son of God as mere childbearing.” Also, he adds that because the verb form of the same word describes regular, wifely childbearing in 1 Timothy 5:14, that it should mean the same here.

But it is hardly “remote” to refer to the “glorious Incarnation of the Son of God” as “mere” childbearing. That is the way it is described in the gospels and even by Paul himself in Galatians 4:4: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” That is about as “mere” and mere can be.

Further, in Galatians 4:21–31, Paul applies the “mere” childbirth of Sarah to the spiritual motherhood of the church. This is about as lofty and spiritual as one can get, and yet in the narrative it is mere childbirth.

In short, such a word can be used to refer to other things than common childbirth, and it can be used to refer to things of a heightened, spiritual nature. We need not try to make a contrast in such things by putting “mere childbirth” on the one hand and then using lofty, pious, religious language to describe the “Oh, great and might One, savior Incarnate Son of Holy Deity etc. etc.” on the other. Scripture does not necessarily operate that way, and theologians should not necessarily, either.

The emphasis on the promise of the Messiah in Genesis not only jives with Paul’s theological context, but it makes sense in the context of Ephesus, where Timothy was pastoring, as well. The city was almost completely consumed with Cult of Artemis (or “Diana” to the Romans). Her massive temple was there. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and it dominated the economy. Her dominance over the culture can be seen in Acts 19:23–41. When the preaching of the Gospel came to Ephesus, those who profited from the cult of Artemis turned the whole city in an uproar and riot against Paul. Then this happened:

Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

This gives you some idea how impassioned the whole culture was about their goddess. Now learn about her: she was a goddess of fertility and a . . .  a protector of women in childbirth. Artemis worship was female-dominated. She was served by women who dedicated themselves in both virginity and others in prostitution. Her priests were castrated males. While notably a virgin herself, she was by myth murderously protective of her own chastity, punishing men with death who even by accident saw her bathing.

Now imagine what happens when Paul and Timothy plant the first church in Ephesus and the people in this Artemis-impassioned culture start getting saved. They are definitely going to be bringing their cultural beliefs and practices as baggage with them into the church. The church was naturally filed with some who were naturally radical pagan feminists who expected to control the show from the beginning. Do you think that may have caused problems in terms of women trying to dominate and suppress men?

It has been widely noted by commentators, especially since the ancient culture has been better understood and considered, that this was the social backdrop of Paul’s correctives here. Artemis worship was behind women naturally assuming and usurping the teaching by men. Artemis worship was behind the idea that women were pristine, virginal, and undefiled while men are lustful threats, the source of corruption. Artemis worship was behind the idea that Artemis protected women in childbirth.

As Paul so often did, he merely returned to the basics of the Bible in order both to instruct the Jewish diaspora converts from their perspectives and correct pagan notions that may creep in from their perspective. It only makes further sense that the ultimate correction of all views is to return to the Word of God and to the very Christ who is the savior of all.

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